This Day in Black History: Duke Ellington is Born

From the African American Registry

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

On this date in 1899, Duke Ellington was born. He was an African-American jazz composer, band leader, and pianist.

Born Edward Kennedy Ellington in Washington, D.C., into a middle-class family, he acquired the nickname Duke as a child for his manners, clothing, and personality. He began playing for friends and at parties and soon formed a small dance band named The Duke’s Serenaders. In 1923 Ellington moved to New York City, 4 years later Ellington began performing at The Cotton Club, the most prominent nightclub in the Harlem area of New York City at the time.

Read more about Duke Ellington here.

This Day in Black History: Jazz Singer Ella Fitzgerald is Born

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

This date in 1918 marks the birth of Ella Fitzgerald. She was an African American jazz singer from Newport News, Virginia.

Considered one of the greatest singers in jazz history, Fitzgerald moved as a child with her mother and her stepfather to Yonkers, New York. As a teenager, she began winning amateur talent contests at the Harlem Opera House and its nearby competitor, the Apollo Theater. This recognition led to an invitation to sing with noted drummer and band leader Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom. Upon Webb’s death in 1939, Fitzgerald became leader of the band.

By the 1940s, Ella Fitzgerald had established the style that made her famous: a warm and lovely voice, unfailingly accurate pitch, superb clarity of diction, and an irresistible sense of swing. In the 1950s, she began a series of songbook recordings, interpreting classics by Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and others. She also made collaborative recordings with legendary band leaders such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. She earned 14 Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967), a number of honorary doctorates, and other prizes, and she gave generously to charitable and humanitarian causes.

She achieved spectacular success in bringing jazz into mainstream American culture and was rightly dubbed the “First Lady of Song.” Ella Fitzgerald died in 1996; a year later her son and attorney presented her archives to the Smithsonian Institution, which in 1998 opened an exhibition on her life and contributions.

From the African American Registry

Happy Birthday Billie Holiday!

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was born on this date in 1915. She was an African-American vocalist, one of the greatest jazz-blues singers of all time, also known as Lady Day.

Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, she spent an impoverished childhood in Baltimore before moving to New York City in the late 1920s, when she began singing in Harlem nightclubs. A recording session in 1935 brought her to public attention. Thereafter she was vocalist with various orchestras, including those of Count Basie and Artie Shaw, and made many recordings with the saxophonist Lester Young and with the pianist Teddy Wilson.

Read more about Billie here and here.